Francona joins ESPN as baseball analyst

When he left the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona said the players needed to hear from a new voice.

ESPN thinks his voice will be an excellent fit for its baseball coverage.

The network hired Francona to replace analyst Bobby Valentine after he replaced Francona as manager of the Red Sox.

”The one thing I do know is I’ll probably sleep better next year than Bobby,” Francona said during a conference call Tuesday. ”It’s probably win-win for everybody and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

After eight years as manager, Francona and the Red Sox parted ways two days after the regular season ended without a playoff berth. The Red Sox went 7-20 in September, but Francona made it to the postseason anyway as an announcer on Fox for the first two games of the AL championship series. He replaced Tim McCarver, who had a minor heart-related procedure.

”It was an incredible experience,” Francona said. ”I actually did have fun.”

Fox had a ”very serious” interest in hiring him again, but the ESPN job ”was too good to pass up,” he said. ”There’s just a comfort level that I know I’m going to enjoy it.”

ESPN announced the hiring Monday night.

It said it plans to use Francona on its Sunday night baseball games with Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser, ”Baseball Tonight” and the Little League World Series. Francona was at baseball’s winter meetings in Dallas on Tuesday where several trades have been made.

”We pulled off the biggest trade of all in getting Terry to the position now where he will have Bobby’s role on our coverage,” said ESPN senior vice president Jed Drake. ”What we’ve got is a guy who has great candor, great wit, great insight and ultimately all the skills to be a great broadcaster.”

But some Red Sox players didn’t listen as the season began to unravel.

At the news conference where his departure was announced on Sept. 30, Francona said the team needed to hear from ”a new voice.”

”That,” he said Tuesday, ”was kind of a nutshell comment that probably got a lot of legs after that. Again, there’s a lot of reasons why things don’t work. You can talk until you’re blue in the face. If a pitcher’s ERA is high, it doesn’t matter what you say.”

In his new job, he said, he has a lot to learn.

”I’m a rookie all over again,” he said. ”They didn’t hire me to be a professional announcer. They just asked me to give my opinion on baseball and I’ve always done that.”

After the season, Francona interviewed for the St. Louis Cardinals managerial job, saying ”it was too good to pass up,” after they won the World Series.

But he didn’t interview for the Chicago Cubs vacancy. Cubs president Theo Epstein, Boston’s general manager the past nine years, and he ”both felt like it just wasn’t the appropriate time,” Francona said. ”From where I was last year, I probably needed to step back and this was a very refreshing way to do that.”

Could his new job help him if he wants to manage again?

”It’s your responsibility to whatever you’re doing to make it help,” he said. ”Regardless of what’s down the road, it’s not really on my mind. I felt the same way when I was managing. You stay in the moment and you do the best you can and things usually have a way of working out.”

But can he be critical of the team he managed for eight years, including two World Series championships?

”I have no problem watching a game and telling the truth,” he said. ”If somebody doesn’t catch the ball, you say they didn’t catch the ball. I don’t know that you have to be a smart aleck about it.”